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Growing Turmeric and the health benefits of Curcumin

turmericThis may be considered part 2 of  Amazing Benefits of Curcumin. However, more detail will now be given to the growing of the plant. Curcumin is the substance with amazing health benefits which is found in the rhizome root of the turmeric plant. Turmeric – or Curcuma Longa – is a tropical plant in the ginger family and more accurately, as one of the ‘hidden ginger’ varieties. As can be seen in the picture on the left , it has a similar underground root rhizome. Pictured here is one of 5 plants that I just ordered on ebay for around $8, and planted.

It is very difficult to find fresh turmeric root in a store, as one would find ginger root etc.  So for one who chooses to grow the plant, the options are in finding a specialty health food store (or Indian foods) and select a mature rhizome which they can plant. Look for roots with a small raised knob(s) or beginning shoots for planting purposes.  Because I do not have any such stores nearby that carry fresh turmeric root, I found it easier to order plants and roots on ebay. Fortunately, there are now folks selling these plants online (or the roots meant for eating/planting).  When transplanting, cut a top section of the plant off to stimulate root development (see video at bottom).

In addition to the wonderful health and culinary benefits of having fresh turmeric, it is also a handsome plant that has an interesting flower .  Being tropical, turmeric requires a very warm and humid climate to really thrive. Though it likes sun, it is said that morning sun and partial shade for the remainder of the day are best.

Even in tropical areas, it will go dormant in the fall or thereafter, but unless the ground doesn’t get too cold, the plant will return the following spring.  From the emergence in spring of the new plant (or in starting a new plant), it takes about 8 months for the plant to be mature enough to harvest the root for food. It is said that once the plant turns yellow and disappears, is the best time to dig the plant up and harvest the root. Also, in allowing the ground to stay on the drier side during dormancy, the potency of the root is enhanced. Rhizomes or plants are best set out for planting after the last frost.

Any root that is not meant for consumption can be stored in a cool dry place for about 6 months – which can then be used or planted in the spring. Alternately, one can carefully dig up isolated sections of the root for occasional use.

Home grown turmeric root is probably not practical for drying and producing powder, so the best approach is simply to remove the outer ‘skin’ and slice or dice into your recipes, salads, etc. Be sure to wear gloves during this process as the yellow can stain your fingers. Fresh turmeric supposedly has a more potent flavor and essential oils than dried. Also, the young leaves made an excellent addition to salads, and recent studies show them to possess COX inhibitor (anti-inflammatory) properties.

Health Benefits

Curcumin is under intense research and study in regards to its powerful antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-fibrotic effects. Epidemiological studies from India where lots of curry is consumed, show a statistical decrease in neuro-degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. For my own interest, I started researching curcumin because of having a family history of Alzheimer’s and glaucoma – for which curcumin is also under research and study.  Therefore, being diagnosed as glaucoma suspect a few years back, I started focusing on every health intervention possible to safeguard against these diseases, and curcumin became of prime interest.

The problem however, is that curcumin has not been shown to have good bio-availability in conventional forms, because hardly any traces of it are found in blood after consuming large doses.  Bioperin which is the substance in black pepper, has been found to greatly increase availability. However, bioperin can interfere with the levels of some medications. There have been numerous other preparations designed to enhance the bodies utilization of curcumin, but many of these are very expensive.  One such preperation, BCM-95, has been featured in medical studies, and of most interest is this statement from the Life Extension Foundation site:

How did the inventors of this patent-pending curcumin achieve this breakthrough? Rather than focusing on further purification of curcumin and curcuminoids derived from turmeric (usually marketed as “95% curcumin/curcuminoids”), the formulators went back to the “roots,” so to speak, reincorporating many of the components of raw turmeric root—which are normally removed during the extraction process—and greatly enhancing the bioavailability of active constituents in the process. In essence, this revolutionary reformulation relies on the inherent synergy of the turmeric rhizome’s natural components to dramatically enhance bioavailability.

Here is another quote stressing the importance of the whole turmeric as opposed to the more popular curcumin (only) extracts:

What’s particularly interesting to us is that curcumin (that’s one of the principal antioxidants in turmeric) is protective, but there are other closely related compounds in turmeric that are even more effective. One of these is about twice as effective; one is 3 times, one is about 5 times, and one is about 10 to 15 times as effective. So if people are taking curcumin alone as a preventive for Alzheimer’s, they’ll probably be helping themselves (if they get the dose right), but taking the entire turmeric package will work better, because there are even more powerful antioxidants in there, and they have evolved together to work … together as an integrated system. Durk Pearson & Sandy Shaw  in the May 2004 issue.

This is no surprise, as many health substances are now found to be missing the essential synergistic elements found in their unprocessed form. Therefore, it seems logical to that consuming fresh, raw turmeric, would be more advantageous in providing the essential oils and other substances which get degraded in processing etc. If you live in a suitable climate and/or have a greenhouse or hoop house, and have an interest in turmeric for food or health, you may want to consider adding it to the things which you grow!

Here are some additional articles

Curcumin Extract for Prevention of Type 2 Diabetes

Dr Weil: Turmeric Health Benefits

The amazing health benefits of turmeric

How to Grow Turmeric

Why you should grow turmeric

Growing Ginger relative ‘Turmeric’

Video on planting and harvesting turmeric

Harvesting Ginger, Turmeric & Galangal

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